The Mystery of Babylon
THE mystery of Babylon consists of two distinct phases, which are defined for us in the words of the messenger when he proposed to declare to John "the secret of the woman and of the wild beast which is bearing her" (Rev.17:7). Let us follow his words closely and not import into the mystery that which has no place there. There is no secret involved in the rise and restoration and doom of the city of Babylon. That was revealed, not concealed. They miss the mark who make the city of Babylon a mysterious symbol of some other city or religious system.
In the explanation (which we decline to explain, as though we could do better than the great Revealer)—in the explanation we are told that the woman is a city. We are given the city's name—Babylon. All this is clear, direct, literal. The less we tamper with it the better. But by the same token, we learn that the woman is not literal, but figurative. Let us note carefully, then, that the secret is linked to the figurative woman and not the literal city.
Similarly, the wild-beast is explained to us as a coterie of kings. They are literal. They concern us only as incorporated in the federation which is figured by the wild beast, but especially at the time when this great world power sustains the apostate sons of Jacob in the last days. The mystery then, is concerned with the wild beast as well as with the woman which it bears. It will be well for us at this point to give our attention to this phase of the secret and see if we can gain a clear conception of this wild beast and of the secret concerning it.
The seven-headed, ten-horned monster which supports the woman has already come before us in the previous section of this book (13:1). When the dragon makes war with the seed of the faithful woman, he accomplishes his purpose by means of two beasts. The first one, which came out of the sea had seven heads and ten horns and is undoubtedly identical with the wild beast which supports the false woman. There is no "mystery" or secret connected with the wild beast in the former section. Why then should there be here?
The answer is simple. The wild beast here bears or sustains the woman (for the time at least) while, in the other case, it was given to the wild beast to do battle with the saints and to conquer them (Rev.13:7). Daniel had already foretold the career of this wild beast, when he would know the certainty of the fourth beast of his vision, which "made war with the saints and prevailed against them" (Dan.7:21). The wild beast is against the Most High (Dan.7:25), hence its enmity towards the saints is no surprise. But when we find it supporting the woman we may well marvel as John did, for this secret was not revealed before. That earth's kings should favor and flatter and enrich the sons of the curse was outside the ken of the prophets.
Before we can understand the mystery we will need a clear comprehension of the wild beast as it is presented apart from any secret in Daniel and the earlier part of this Unveiling. Daniel, indeed, saw four wild beasts where John saw but one, yet a simple comparison of the one with the four will show that the one is a composite which includes the four. Daniel leads them into the arena at a time when the fourth is antagonistic to the other three: John sees the fourth beast after it has devoured and incorporated the other three (Dan.7:1-7; Rev.13:1,2).
Daniel saw four distinct animals, the first like a lion, the second like a bear, the third like a leopard, and the fourth a nondescript monster (Dan.7:4-7). John's wild beast is made up of these four. He says "And the wild beast which I perceived was like a leopard, and its feet were as a bear, and its mouth as the mouth of a lion." (Rev.13: 2).
The same is true of its heads and horns. The beast has seven heads and ten horns. These are distributed as follows among the beasts in Daniel.
Daniel's fourth beast, with its iron teeth, devoured the rest (Dan.7:7), hence they are seen as part of it at that later manifestation given to the seer of Patmos. If we can establish the identity of these beasts it will help us much, for each vision supplements the other.
In considering the mystery of the wild beast which sustains the woman it is well for us to keep constantly in mind the underlying current of this section of the apocalypse. Babylon and its doom is definitely connected with the bowls, which, we have seen, are poured out upon those under the curse of the law. The subject of the section is the destruction of the apostates who have despised Yahweh's covenant and made a covenant with the nations. We too, like the apostle, ought to marvel much to find them supported in grand and luxurious magnificence by the nations and ruling over the kings as though Yahweh had already established the Kingdom of the prophets.
The twentieth century has seen a notable change over the whole world's attitude toward the Jew. Historically the governments, with few exceptions, have despised and persecuted them. Anti-semitism has been a matter of course. What right had they to expect anything else? The curse they called down upon themselves and their children has haunted them at every step of their weary wanderings. But the twentieth century saw their ancient patrimony restored, as well as defended against the attack of their armed neighbors. We can already see the dim outlines of the woman seated on the scarlet-colored beast!
The opening scene of this vision is the very antithesis of judgment. It is presented first that we may understand the character of her crimes lest we marvel at the severity of her punishment, and that we may be initiated into the secret that the sons of Jacob, even in their unfaithfulness, will be exalted to millennial power and position by the very nations which have persecuted them hitherto.
It is of prime importance, not merely for us, who are students of these things, but most of all for the faithful in Israel, who will be living at that time, that they know the end of all this false patronage. How long will it continue? When will the climax come? How can the saints be safeguarded against the great deception?
To give practical help to the saints of that day, rather than to furnish a puzzle for expositors is the real object of the angel's explanations. There is a crisis in the relations of the wild beast and the woman, when it is transformed from a patron into a persecutor. Some of the saints will be in Babylon. To warn these of her doom and to give the signal of its execution is the object the angel has in view.
The career of the wild beast is divided into two distinct phases by its sojourn in the abyss (Rev.17:8). No such division marks the previous vision of the wild beast for the simple reason that we are not given a glimpse of it until after it emerges from the sea, which is equivalent to its ascent from the so-called "bottomless pit" or abyss. The secret phase of Babylon and the wild beast antedates and precedes the final, career of the wild beast when it is obsessed by the dragon, when it breaks the covenant and the power of the holy people until it is itself destroyed by the King of kings.
By rendering the Greek word abussos "bottomless pit" when it occurs in the Revelation and "deep" in the two other passages where it is found (Luke 8:31; Rom.10:7) our translators have made it difficult for the English reader to form a fair idea of its meaning. The picture of a pit without a bottom has led to the most fanciful interpretations, such as, for instance, that it extends through the center of the earth, which, by the laws of gravitation, becomes its bottomless depth. A study of its Hebrew equivalent will help us form a much more definite idea of its import. While it is almost always translated "deep" or "depths" it always has reference to water, just as we speak of the sea as "the deep." In Gen.1:2 we read that "darkness was on the face of the deep." To which is added "and the Spirit of God was fluttering on the face of the waters." After this, the waters were divided. Some were above the firmament and some below it. The latter were called seas, and are ever after associated with the abyss or "the deep."
The deluge did not consist simply of rain from above, but all the springs of the great deep were broken up (Gen.7:11). And after a hundred and fifty days, the springs of the deep were restrained so that the waters were abated (Gen.8:2). Henceforth the "deep" is beneath, in contrast with the heavens above. Jacob blesses Joseph
With the blessings of heaven, from above,
Blessings of the deep that lieth under. (Gen.49:25).
Moses sings of the Egyptians:
Pharaoh's chariots and his host hath He cast into the sea:
His chosen captains also are drowned in the Red sea.
The depths have covered them:
They sank to the bottom as a stone. (Gen.15:4,5).
and again, concerning the waters:
And with the blast of Thy nostrils the waters were gathered together,
The floods stood upright as a heap,
And the depths were congealed in the heart of the sea. (Gen.15:8).
Isaiah, too, cries concerning Yahweh's arm, which He made bare on this occasion:
Art Thou not it which hath dried the sea, the waters of the great deep;
That hath made the depths of the sea a way for the redeemed to pass over? (Isa.51:10).
"That led them by the right hand of His servant Moses with His glorious arm,
Dividing the waters before them
To make Himself an eonian name?"
That led them through the deep." (Isa.63:12,13).
Of Tyre's destruction, Ezekiel says:
"When I shall bring up the deep upon thee
And great waters shall cover thee."
Jonah, too, after he had been cast forth into the sea, prayed from the belly of the fish:
The waters compassed me about even to the soul;
The depth closed me round about." (Jonah 2:5).
There is one important point which is obvious in all these passages. The abyss or "deep" is not a mere hollow or "pit." It refers to all the waters under the heavens, especially the sea and the subterranean waters which issue forth in springs and rivers. The Red Sea is part of the "deep," though it was quite shallow where the Israelites crossed it. The springs of the land issued from the "deep." It always refers to water in some depression or hollow of the earth.
In almost every case the Greek translators rendered it "abyss" in their version.
This conclusion is confirmed by the repeated expression "well of the abyss" (Rev.9:1,2). Our translators seem to have ignored this word entirely unless we suppose they intended it to be involved in their usual rendering of abyss "bottomless pit." But phrear does not mean a mere pit, but a well. Jacob's well is called by this term (John 4:11,12). To this very day, it still furnishes water for the villagers. That it was no pit or cistern is evident from the fact that it is also called a spring (John 4:6, A.V. "well").
All the evidence, then, points to the fact that the abyss can refer only to the water which fills the sea or which lies beneath the ground. In the latter case, it must be reached by means of a well.
From the abyss it is that the wild beast ascends (Rev.17:8). If we will compare this with the previous vision of the wild beast (Rev.13:1), we find that it rose out of the sea. There is every reason to believe that these two statements refer to the same event. Not only are the abyss and the sea often identified, but other particulars in the vision point to the same conclusion.
One of the heads of the wild beast which rose from the sea had been wounded to death, but when it rose the death stroke had been healed (Rev.13:3). At the time when the angel was speaking to John the beast was still in the abyss. When it ascends from the abyss it commands the universal admiration of all whose names are not written on the scroll of life from the disruption of the world (compare Rev.13:8 and 17:8).
From this we know that the vision of the wild beast and the false woman (Rev.17:1) brings before us a period anterior to the time when it emerges from the sea (Rev.13:1). It would seem that the beast was not against the apostate people until its supernatural restoration to life and its obsession by the dragon. In the twelfth chapter, we have the persecution of the faithful remnant by the dragon, but the wild beast is not involved in it until its authority is directly derived from the dragon. There is no intimation that, before this, the faithful minority had any dealings with the wild beast while the unfaithful majority were in close covenant and dependence.
In connection with Babylon, however, a special effort is made to fix the exact point when the beast unseats the woman and changes from her supporter to her implacable enemy. That change is wrought while the beast "is not"—that is, while it is in the abyss. When the eighth king, who is one of the seven restored to life, comes upon the scene, the hour of Babylon's doom has struck. The federation of which he is the head, represented by the ten horns, delegate all their power to him for the destruction of the woman whom they hitherto supported. The whole earth, over which she reigned, turns upon her with fury until she is utterly destroyed.
THE TEN HORNS
A special hatred seems to possess the ten horns, and they seem to be the immediate instruments in her destruction. The reason for this may appear if we can discover the nations which they represent. In Daniel's vision, only the last beast had ten horns. The others had none. This beast is said to be west of the other three. In other words, the ten-horned nondescript is a confederacy of ten western nations. Doubtless, the horns in the Apocalyptic visions likewise represent the great western confederacy which ultimately devours the whole earth.
Money rules the world. No czar nor kaiser, king nor autocrat dare oppose its power. Even wars, we are told, will be won by the nation which can produce the last dollar. Political power must bow in servile obeisance to the despot, Gold. The financial capital is the real center of world power. In the days to come that center will not be London or New York, but Babylon. There the apostate Jews will pool their tremendous wealth and attain the zenith of earthly prosperity, supported by a slaving hemisphere.
What can these nations do to break the financial yoke which fetters them? To pay the principal is impossible. Is not the suggestion of the eighth head, the marvel of the whole world, a brilliant exhibition of his genius? He would not pay them but slay them. He would not cancel the debt, but wipe out the creditors. He would destroy them utterly. No wonder they are unanimous and delegate their power to the wild beast. He is the man they have been looking for! He will remove the burden of Babylon at a single stroke.
Then the ten horns let loose their fury on the hapless city and carry out God's sentence upon her. In this phase of their work, there is no longer any mystery. The nations have often been used by Yahweh to punish His wayward people. The mystery, or secret, consists rather in the part the nations play in the exaltation of apostate Israel to the semblance of millennial power and bliss. The mystery of the wild beast consists in the support which the nations of the earth give Israel in her final and most fearful apostasy from Yahweh.
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