Desolate City

Desolate City July 17, 2015

Revelation 18 ends with a terrible description of post-apocalyptic Babylon, a city fallen. The description focuses on the silence, enumerating the sounds (phone, 3x in vv. 22-23) that are no longer found. Sounds, and the unseen sights. We’ve seen this scene before – in I Am Legend and countless other films: The city empty, eerily quiet, dead.

The description in Revelation 18:22-23 alternates between sounds and sights:

A. Sound of harpists, musicians, flute-players, trumpeters heard no longer.

B. Craftsmen found no longer.

A’. Sound of mill heard no longer.

B’. Light of lamp shines no longer.

A”. Sound of bridegroom or bride heard no longer.

The entire city stands under the banner of the repeated phrase: “No longer.” Seven sounds are no longer heard. It’s the ultimate shabbat for Babylon, a complete and final ceasing.

We can read the structure as a chiasm as well. A and A” are connected, the musicians playing the music of a wedding. Craftsmen do their work by the light of lamps. At the center of the structure, the sound of the mill ceases. There is no longer any food or food production. The city that is like a millstone (v. 21) no longer grinds.

The passage turns not only on signs and sounds but on what is found or not found. The destruction of Babylon involves both hiding and discovery, both veiling and apocalypse. The city as a whole will no longer be found (v. 21); ruins may remain but it will no longer be the city Babylon, the city that rules the kings of the land. Craftsmen will no longer be found either (v. 22). These things are hidden because of a secret that was exposed: “in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints and of all who have been slain on the earth” (v. 24). Because the blood of saints is uncovered, the city is submerged in the sea.

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