Wine of Passion

Babylon is first mentioned in Revelation in 14:8, and is immediately associated with wine. It’s called the “wine of the passion of her immorality.”

That suggests a number of connections.

The Song of Songs links wine with love: Love is better than wine, and the lovers drink each other and become intoxicated by love. The harlot is the false Bride, the seductive Lady Folly, who offers wine that inflames passion of infidelity.

In chapters 17 and 18, the harlot’s cup is full of the blood of saints (17:6). Her wine of love is holy blood; what inflames her and the nations is the blood of believers. This seems fanciful, but is perfectly realistic. The same dynamics are playing out every week on the news these days: Blood breeds blood because blood fuels the passion for more blood. Wine is supposed to bring rest. This wine breeds idolatrous, murderous zeal.

Wine is also a liturgical material. Wine is poured on the sacrifices in the old covenant, and in the new wine is loured into the altar of the body (individual and corporate), the drinking offering poured out into the living sacrifice. The harlot’s wine is linked with idolatry: Babylon is introduced in chapter 14 between two brief passages speaking about true and false worship. Her wine is the libation on the worship of the beast. But in the light of 17:6 we can make this literal again: The blood of martyrs is the libation on the idolatrous worship of the beast. When beasts are worshiped, the blood of saints will be the drink offering. It’s a simple condition-consequence: “If anyone worships the beast . . . he will also drink of the wine of the wrath of God” (14:10).

And then we can also see that the wine of the harlot’s passion is simultaneously the wine of God’s passion (thumos for the harlot’s passion in 14:8; for God’s anger in 14:10, 19). Drinking the blood of saints might inflame the harlot’s passions for more blood, for more idols, but this same drink is going to be her downfall. And that also means that the libation of holy blood is also God’s libation of wrath. It’s not accidental that Babylon’s wine cup is first mentioned in conjunction with the tormenting fire and brimstone that sends up quasi-sacrificial smoke, at the very times of daily sacrifice, day and night (14:10-11). Here again the harlot’s wine brings no rest: “he will also drink the wine of the wrath of God . . . and they have no rest day and night” (14:10-11).

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