11 And the merchants of the earth shall weep and mourn over her [Babylon]; for no man buyeth their merchandise any more:
12 The merchandise of gold, and silver, and precious stones, and of pearls, and fine linen, and purple, and silk, and scarlet, and all thyine wood, and all manner vessels of ivory, and all manner vessels of most precious wood, and of brass, and iron, and marble,
13 And cinnamon, and odours, and ointments, and frankincense, and wine, and oil, and fine flour, and wheat, and beasts, and sheep, and horses, and chariots, and slaves, and souls of men. (Revealtion 18:11-13)
Elsewhere I have posted about Captain Moroni’s priority list as found on the title of liberty. It is important to note that Babylon has its own priority list that we must guard against adopting.
We can see this priority list above in the list of goods that Babylon won’t be able to buy any more, which causes the merchants and suppliers to face total ruin. If we look at it carefully, we see that it reads like a priority list of materialism, and notice that people come last. And not for any actual care; remember, this is a list of merchandise.
First comes currency—gold and silver—because it is the medium of exchange. As the devil said, “You can buy anything in this world for money..”
Next comes the jewelry—precious stones and pearls—because they are almost as liquid as currency and can be worn as status symbols.
Third comes luxury fashion—fine linen, purple, silk, scarlet—the most difficult and time-consuming and costly clothing to make. No ordinary homespun for these people; Babylon places a high priority on status symbols you can wear to demonstrate your importance instantly.
Next comes the fancy furniture—all thyne wood—because you have to have the best décor at home to demonstrate your worth when people come to visit, and you want everything you see at home to remind you how important and special you are.
After that comes the containers to hold all your stuff—vessels of ivory, most precious wood, brass, iron, and marble—because you can’t have all your stuff in a disorganized mess and just laying around. The best stuff deserves the best containers, you know.
Then come the sensory pleasures of smell—cinnamon, odours, ointments and frankincense—because you want to create an aura of luxury and importance wherever you go. Plus you want to cover up any scent of harsh reality, like dirt, sweat, infection, or rotting food.
And then after that are the sensory pleasures of taste—wine, oil, fine flour, and wheat—but of course wine is more valued than wheat because wheat merely sustains life whereas wine… well you can’t have any fun without intoxication, can you?
After that comes animal life—beasts, sheep, and horses—because they can do all this work for you, or you can eat them, and they don’t sass back, and you can buy and sell them, and if they are vicious, they can be a weapon to protect you and hurt your enemies.. And they are yet another way of displaying wealth.
Then comes transportation—horses and chariots—because heaven forbid you should stay in the same place all the time or be forced to walk everywhere or have to travel among the common rabble. You’re too important to be kept waiting; you deserve speed. What speed limits?
Oh, and humans.. ah.. human life isn’t that big a deal. Slaves definitely rate higher than souls in Babylon, that’s for sure. Slaves have to do what you tell them, but souls you have to persuade and cajole and bribe and threaten.
So what else do we notice about this list?
1. Lifeless things are higher on the list than live things. Babylon cares more about stuff than about life.
2. Animal life is higher on the list than human life.
3. Liquidity is considered higher priority than status symbols, hence the world loves those who are rich but don’t show it even more than it loves the show of wealth, and this means those without status symbols have to make sure everyone knows about their liquidity so that they still get respect from people they don’t know.
4. Status symbols are a higher priority than the pleasures of the senses, so you will find people flocking to status symbols even if said symbols make them uncomfortable.
5. Babylon values superfluous pleasures of the senses much more than it values common or necessary things. Hence, scents are a higher priority than actual food, and if you consider food, extravagance, dainties, and mind-altering substances have higher priority than good, solid, healthy nourishment.
We are specifically warned to depart from Babylon in that same chapter:
And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues. (Revelation 18:4)
If we adopt any of Babylon’s priorities, we will also experience Babylon’s plagues—medical, social, and spiritual. If we come out of Babylon and avoid her sins, then we will be spared those plagues. Yes, trouble and affliction is a natural part of life, but then there are also consequences of sin that we can avoid by.. not sinning.
What happens to it all? It all disappears. The same chapter of Revelation that gives us this list of merchandise and priorities also describes the lamentations of the kings, merchants, and shipmen devastated by the desolation of Babylon. Their lamentations are instructive to us.
9 And the kings of the earth, who have committed fornication and lived deliciously with her, shall bewail her, and lament for her, when they shall see the smoke of her burning,
10 Standing afar off for the fear of her torment, saying, Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! for in one hour is thy judgment come. (Revelation 18:9-10)
The kings call Babylon “that mighty city,” indicating that they derived much if not all their power to rule from Babylon’s resources and power to coerce, the military-industrial complex. Once Babylon is gone, their power is gone as well, and they don’t see any alternative way to gain, hold, or use power. They think Babylon was mighty, but they aren’t willing to see that the Lord is mightier.
Kings were those who dispensed judgment and they recognize that the fall of Babylon is deserved. They should have administered judgment on Babylon themselves, but they held back, preferring to unite and partner with Babylon rather than do their judicial duty. Perhaps they though rendering judgment would open a huge can of worms, diverting resources to catch and try criminals.. So it is notable that they marvel over the speed that judgment comes to Babylon—“in one hour is thy judgment come.”
Who else laments over Babylon?
15 The merchants of these things, which were made rich by her, shall stand afar off for the fear of her torment, weeping and wailing,
16 And saying, Alas, alas, that great city, that was clothed in fine linen, and purple, and scarlet, and decked with gold, and precious stones, and pearls!
17 For in one hour so great riches is come to nought… (Revelation 18:15-17)
The merchants lament that once Babylon is destroyed no one buys their merchandise any more; there is no demand whatsoever. Peoples’ priorities are completely different outside of Babylon, and it is depressing to these people to find that all the goods they worked to aggregate for sale are no longer valuable. And since they probably measured their own worth according to what they made, they probably felt suddenly worthless.
Additionally, though the merchants had been made rich by Babylon, suddenly it didn’t matter any more. “For in one hour so great riches is come to nought,” they lament. The riches they worked so hard to accumulate don’t matter in eternity, and suddenly they are faced with the realization that from now on, everyone is to be considered of equal worth, no matter what their wealth or status has been. They can’t stand that idea, since they worked so hard to establish their value through wealth. Wealtn no longer matters without Babylon, but they can’t seem to imagine any other way. To them, it is wealth or oblivion. They wanted riches so they could buy the corrupted delicacies of Babylon, but now there’s nothing to buy! It’s all gone.
Another way that so great riches may come to nought for the merchants is if they can’t hold back a disaster that they felt they could avert or survive with a large enough financial cushion.
Who else laments Babylon’s demise?
…And every shipmaster, and all the company in ships, and sailors, and as many as trade by sea, stood afar off,
18 And cried when they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, What city is like unto this great city!
19 And they cast dust on their heads, and cried, weeping and wailing, saying, Alas, alas, that great city, wherein were made rich all that had ships in the sea by reason of her costliness! for in one hour is she made desolate. (Revelation 18:17-19)
The shipmasters and sailors represent those in charge of transporting goods to Babylon. They foresee that the destruction of Babylon means there won’t be nearly the amount of goods to move about, so their business is going to slump immensely. They say, “What city is like unto this great city!” which indicates they can’t even imagine any alternative to Babylon. The city of Zion isn’t on their radar at all. They could always depend on finding a port in Babylon to deliver their goods, but now they are left floating with no place to go.
All the demand for what they could transport to Babylon meant they could charge exorbitant prices, become rich, and then partake of those same luxuries and vices of Babylon, but now it is all gone, their riches mean nothing, there’s nothing to their corrupted taste to buy anyway, and all their skills and cunning and equipment are superfluous.
To them all, the judgment on Babylon seems to come “in one hour” without warning, yet we know there is always plenty of warning given. They just chose not to listen, so there was no time for them to prepare for anything different. (Of course, during the time the Saints were coming out of Babylon, Babylon’s prospects seemed to be getting better and better, so they deceived themselves into staying.)
They are all shocked by how totally Babylon was destroyed. Everything they loved, everything that mattered to them, everything that made them who they were and wanted to be was gone forever.
The kings, merchants, and shipping masters mourn for Babylon because they can’t imagine living any other way than the Babylon way. They didn’t fit in with any other way. They had oriented their lives totally in terms of Babylon, so without it they realize their total and complete spiritual poverty.
These verses teach me that I can’t let myself get comfortable with the worldly status quo of “you can buy anything in this world for money” and Babylon priorities. I have to be able to imagine another way—Zion. I have to work toward Zion, and see something different.
When you think about Zion, how do you see it as different from the world we live in now?